So you want to work in CSR…

It was Christmas season in West Acres Mall in Fargo. I was around five years old. I was with my mother and grandmother shopping for a dress for my grandmother to wear to a cousin’s wedding. They looked away for a moment, my mother said. And I was gone. I was five stores down having a long conversation with a shoe salesman. It took over an hour for my mother to find me after she realized I had disappeared from her side. This was the beginning of my passion for networking. I’ve always wanted to meet people. Thirty years later, I even wrote a book about networking. It’s clear I believe in the value of networking.

As much as I love networking, though, I also understand the time it takes. I’m about to enter my second year in the corporate sector, and networking is harder than ever. The time just isn’t there to give. It’s especially difficult to find time to give back to the young people interested in my field. I consider myself lucky to be in corporate social responsibility (CSR). It’s a growing and exciting field, and many people want in!

CSR is attracting people from all backgrounds for many reasons. Each week, I am inundated with email from individuals interested in launching a career in CSR. In a perfect world, I have coffee or lunch with every one of them, mentor them, and watch them each land a job in this field. But time doesn’t allow me to meet every person.

Moreover, I know how difficult it can be to network in this field. When I moved to Chicago in 2010, I brought a decade of experience in nonprofit fundraising, public relations and marketing. That background helped me land many interviews, but no jobs. So I detoured for a while. I worked in consulting, I started my own business, I wrote a book. Three years later, I went back to the job search in the CSR space and found a different result. I had multiple offers from companies that excited me, and love the job and company I chose. During both my  job searches in this field, many CSR professionals dissuaded me. They knew I was smart, savvy and driven. But they also knew jobs in CSR are few and far between.

So here’s the bad news: In any given company, there might be as little as 1 job for a CSR professional. Sure, in some, there are 20. But that is rare. And in many companies, there are 0. And in most companies, CSR professionals aren’t just in CSR. Many CSR professionals also work in communications, marketing, lega;, human resources or other departments. Finding a job in CSR is inherently more difficult than finding a job in any other area. There are less seats available at the table.

Here’s the good news: The landscape of CSR is changing. Rajesh Subramaniam of FedEx says, “This is the only field in corporations that is consistently growing.” Today, as Rajesh also says, CSR is “table stakes.” Companies new and old are realizing, you cannot succeed without it. Over the next 10 years, the number of jobs available in the CSR space will grow exponentially. If you don’t believe me, here’s the proof:

Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship is the premiere resource on trends in CSR. Their own growth in membership is evidence of the field’s development. The image below (and accompanying post from BCCCC’s website here) illustrates BCCCC’s growth since its inception in 1985.


Using BCCCC membership as representation of the corporate sector, only 35 companies invested in CSR in 1985. That number rose to 260 by the year 2000. And today, BCCCC boasts more than 400 members. If the trends in growth continue here, 113 companies will add a CSR department by the year 2020. And while 113 potential jobs may not seem like a lot, in a small industry, it is.

So if you want to work in CSR, keep moving forward, the cause is not lost. It is that focus on growth that inspired me to start writing about CSR and my career in it this year. If you’re interested in a career in CSR, I’ll be writing often. Stay tuned and stay diligent.



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